Depression Doctor: What Kind Of Doctor Treats Depression Symptoms?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 06/27/2022

If you have concerns about depression, you may wonder who you should see about your symptoms. Depression is a significant mental health concern that needs proper attention so you can feel better. Trying to get the help you need may feel overwhelming if you don't know where to look or what to consider. Fortunately, there are various options to choose from when seeking help. A person's situation may vary from another person. Some contact their primary physician and get a referral to a mental health specialist. Others may find support through a community health clinic providing mental health services without a referral. 

Understanding Symptoms And Ruling Out Other Health Concerns

If you think you have depression, it helps to explore your options to get an idea of where to begin so you can feel better. When you suspect depression, it is essential to know the symptoms and note what symptoms you experience. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Too little or too much sleep, insomnia
  • Feeling restless, fatigue, tiredness
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in appetite (eating too little or too much)
  • Changes in weight (losing or gaining)
  • Isolation or not wanting to be around others
  • Feelings of persistent sadness, guilt, or hopelessness

Knowing your symptoms and how long you've experienced them is significant. When you meet with your doctor or mental health specialist, they will ask about your symptoms. Talking about your health at this stage is crucial, especially if you have a preexisting health condition. Sometimes symptoms that seem like depression could be an unaddressed health concern.

Contact your primary care doctor to talk about your concerns. Your doctor may want to rule out health concerns such as nutritional deficiencies, thyroid problems, hormonal changes, or medication side effects if you take medicine for a preexisting condition.

If you suspect depression is behind your symptoms, you could be recommended for a depression screening, which includes exploring your symptoms further along with treatment recommendations. A primary doctor may also recommend you to a mental health specialist after ruling out other health concerns.

If you've been diagnosed with depression but have other health concerns you have yet to address, contact your doctor. They may give additional insight into what to do based on your circumstances. If you have a mental health specialist, they may also want to know about your health concerns. They could make suggestions to help you adjust and cope while keeping depressive symptoms manageable.

Screening And Diagnosis

Understanding how to talk to your doctor about depression includes preparing for your appointment, questions to ask, and information to mention your health. When your symptoms become a disruption in your life where it is difficult to manage them, it is time to talk with your doctor. Many people seek help for depression by visiting their primary doctor, who may ask questions about your health and any related concerns you have. Asking about your symptoms is part of a screening process for depression. You may be asked questions like the following: 

  • What symptoms are you having and for how long?
  • Do you experience low mood or sadness often?
  • Have you experienced a significant loss or life changes?
  • Do people close to you notice any changes? (family members, friends, coworkers)
  • Do you still have the interest to be actively engaging in social activities or hobbies?
  • Have you experienced changes in your sleep or eating habits?
  • Do you have a family history of depression or mental illness?

While your doctor will have questions for you to answer, it is also good to ask questions. You can make a list of questions to ask before your appointment. Ask anything to get as much information as you can to learn more about your symptoms. Here are some common questions patients ask their doctor:

  • Is depression causing my symptoms?
  • Is there another condition that could be causing my symptoms?
  • Do I need to take any tests?
  • What treatment options will help my symptoms?
  • How do I manage depression symptoms along with my preexisting condition?

The questions asked and answered on both sides will help determine treatment for symptoms. You might get a referral to see a mental health specialist. Some primary doctors may prescribe an antidepressant or something to help with physical symptoms. A mental health specialist could also do the same. When referred to a specialist, they can make additional recommendations for treatment.

Mental Health Professionals Are Highly Recommended

Each person varies, but it helps to understand possible outcomes for getting treatment. In some cases, a person can get medication from their primary doctor but not get a referral to a mental health specialist, at least not right away. If the medication given for your symptoms helps, you'll follow up with your primary doctor. But if your doctor wants you evaluated further, you may be referred to a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist. Sometimes a referral is necessary to determine if medication is needed.

A mental health specialist may help with managing your symptoms, along with medication through therapy sessions. Such professionals specialize in assisting people in dealing with their emotions through proven techniques and approaches to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Mental health specialists support mental health conditions by prescribing medications and coping with emotional hurting associated with your symptoms.

People may wonder if specific doctors such as depression psychologists or depression therapists treat depression symptoms. While there may not be a particular type of depression psychologist, such experts are trained to help people manage their symptoms. Types of mental health specialists include psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. Each specialist type helps individuals deal with their feelings, thoughts, and emotions from a different perspective. You can help deal with emotions related to mental and physical symptoms that affect your daily activities and how you interact with others.

A patient may be referred to a mental health specialist for treatment of a different condition. Sometimes a primary care doctor lets the specialist determine a diagnosis, especially when they have more experience distinguishing symptoms from various mental health concerns. In other words, further analysis allows for exploring other possible reasons for your symptoms. Some learn it is not depression, but maybe an anxiety disorder or ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder). Sometimes mental health conditions can share similar symptoms as a result. 

Why Some Recommend Seeing A Psychiatrist

It is common for people to visit with a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist. While a psychologist or counselor can be helpful, some suggest an initial visit with a psychiatrist for a few reasons. Psychiatrists are the only mental health specialists able to prescribe medication for symptoms. Sometimes depression occurs due to a chemical imbalance or hormonal imbalance. Medication can help with that to improve your mood or to calm your nerves when feeling uneasy. You should always consult a doctor before taking any medication.

A psychiatrist may refer you to another mental health specialist for therapy, depending on your emotional needs. They can help regulate your medication while providing psychotherapy. Some psychiatrists focus only on medication and recommend you work with a psychologist to learn coping skills for your symptoms.

What To Know When Considering A Doctor

While your primary doctor can refer you to a specialist, you can also choose a professional to work with based on your concerns. Sometimes people may work with a mental health specialist but feel uncomfortable or not getting the results they hoped, leading to a new professional's search. Whether you are looking to work with someone for the first time or you want to explore your options, here are things to think about when choosing a mental health professional:

  • Keep your symptoms in mind to know the kind of help you will need. Have questions to ask about what type of care will be best for your symptoms and why.
  • Learn if your treatment would involve seeing other specialists or if you can have just one doctor. Some people may have their primary care doctor as their main care source for their symptoms.
  • Learn how to find trained and experienced mental health professionals and the credentials they should have. Many therapists and mental health specialists have different styles of providing services to patients. They also specialize in various types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Some specialize in working with people with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc. Find someone that has experience treating people with the symptoms you have.
  • Assess what to do when your treatment doesn't work. Know who you can talk to in your social circle and your doctor when you get frustrated with your treatment plan. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to notice results.
  • Know who you can talk to when you need to talk. Going through working with a doctor or specialist can be frightening while being antsy for treatment benefits to kick in. If you feel like you're in a crisis, crisis help hotlines and your local emergency room may support it.

While there is no specific doctor for depression alone, you have options to work with your primary care doctor and mental health specialists when seeking help for depressive symptoms. You can work with a specialist locally or consider online options such as online therapy and online counseling for confidential and discreet support.